Thursday, March 18, 2010

Bill would require political ads be accessible to the deaf

Bill would require political ads be accessible to the deaf

Residents who are deaf and hard of hearing want to know what politicians are saying on TV.
A group of residents testified Tuesday before the House Ways and Means Committee in favor of a state bill that would require candidates to offer closed captioning or transcripts for television and web commercials.

Alfred Sonnenstrahl, a Montgomery County resident with two grandchildren enrolled at the Maryland School for the Deaf in Frederick , asked the committee to support the bill.

He pointed out that in the committee room, they rely on microphones for everyone to hear -- a hearing aid for hearing people, he said.

"Now obviously, at some point, you've thought of the expense that you would incur putting in this technology, and you assumed that it was a given expense," he said. "We're asking you to make it the same for us."

He is a board member of the Maryland Association of the Deaf, which supports the bill so deaf and hard of hearing voters can learn about candidates.

The bill is being sponsored by Frederick County Delegate Joseph Bartlett in the House and Sen. Norman R. Stone Jr. in the Senate.

Bartlett has never used closed captioning on his campaign advertisements but said he would in the future.

"Once I heard from advocacy groups, it's something we should have been doing all along, and I should have been doing it all along," Bartlett said.

He doesn't think the bill is too onerous for campaigns, since it gives them the choice of offering closed captioning, posting a transcript on a campaign website or seeking an exemption.

"There are 769,000 people we're disenfranchising, and I think we should take it into account," he said.

Sonnenstrahl said the cost of closed captioning ranges from $100 to $1,000, depending on the length of the event, if it is live or taped in advance, etc.